Two sources of moral reasons
MetadataShow full item record
One of the core questions in contemporary metaethics concerns the nature and status of moral claims. However, this question presupposes that morality is unified, and that a single metaethical account will suffice. This thesis aims to challenge that presupposition. In particular, I argue that there is a substantial theoretical payoff to be had from combining two distinct metaethical theories – realism, on the one hand, and constructivism, on the other – whilst limiting the scope of each. In the realist case, the discourse aims to describe a particular feature of reality; in the constructivist case, the discourse aims to solve some of the coordination problems faced by people as social beings. We have, therefore, two distinct sources of moral reasons. The resulting ‘hybrid’ theory is appealing at the metaethical level, but also yields an attractive picture at the applied level. Specifically, it retains the core intuition underlying utilitarianism, whilst incorporating a broadly contractarian account of morality. On this account, our reasons for not harming other persons are at least the same as our reasons for not harming animals – but we have additional reasons to refrain from harming persons. Chapter One establishes a moderate presumption in favour of moral realism, understood as the claim that moral discourse aims to represent the world, deals in objective truths, and yields statements capable of truth or falsity. Chapter Two addresses arguments for moral antirealism: these arguments can be met by restricting the scope of moral realism. Chapter Three explores the content of the resultant moral realism: specifically, realism about the intrinsic value of hedonic states. Chapter Four deals with that part of morality which is unaccounted for by restricted moral realism, and offers an outline form of contractarian constructivism. Chapter Five investigates the consequences of the hybrid metaethical theory for applied ethics.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Items in the St Andrews Research Repository are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.